Profit Versus Public Service

Here’s an interesting conversation between somebody who manages public parks via a private-sector contract and a park ranger (via Instapundit):

Ranger:  I think it’s wrong that you make a profit on public lands

Me:  So you work for free?

Ranger:  Huh?

Me:  If you think it’s wrong to make money on public lands, I assume you must volunteer, else you too would be making money on public lands

Ranger:  No, of course I get paid.

Me:  Well, I know what I make for profit in your District, and I have a good guess what your salary probably is, and I can assure you that you make at least twice as much as me on these public lands.

Ranger:  But that is totally different.

I’ve periodically written about this general faith among government employees and their big-government sympathizers that “public service” is more akin to a higher calling for which one is compensated because it is just such an honorable thing to do.  To some degree, the sentiment is part of the mythology that enables labor unions and progressives to turn their supporters into a sort of cult.

Government union members must implicitly believe that they are sacrificing something, or else they would have to admit that their unions’ activities are wholly inappropriate, bordering on extortion and theft.  This may not have been the case, at one point, but we’re well beyond its being undeniable.  Similarly, progressives must implicitly believe that their motives are pure and non-ideological, or else they have no basis for asserting their vision of “progress” as objective or for offering their judgment as a better guide for the centralized plans that form their political philosophy.

In narrow cases, as in the conversation above, the dispute will likely be worked out over time, as private contracting becomes a larger and larger part of government activity (for better and worse).  When it comes to the progressive movement toward an ever-broader scope of centralized government activity, on the other hand, there may be no cure but to crash and rebuild.

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